For centuries, humans have looked to space and the stars for answers. The fascination is more than philosophical – it’s coupled with the need to solve problems here on Earth.
Today, as Visual Capitalist’s Therese Wood details below, there are seemingly countless benefits and applications of space technology. Satellites, for instance, are becoming critical for everything from internet connectivity and precision agriculture, to border security and archaeological study.
Space is Open for Business
Right now, there are nearly 6,000 satellites circling our tiny planet. About 60% of those are defunct satellites – space junk – and roughly 40% are operational.
As highlighted in the chart above, The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), determined that 2,666 operational satellites circled the globe in April of 2020.
Over the coming decade, it’s estimated by Euroconsult that 990 satellites will be launched every year. This means by 2028, there could be 15,000 satellites in the skies.
With SpaceX’s planned Starlink constellation of 12,000 satellites and Amazon’s proposed constellation in the works, the new space race continues its acceleration.
Let’s take a closer look at who operates those satellites and how they apply their technology.
Technology with a Purpose
Humans have long used space for navigation. While sailors once relied on the stars, today we use satellites for GPS, navigation, and various other applications.
More than half of Earth’s operational satellites are launched for commercial purposes. About 61% of those provide communications, including everything from satellite TV and Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity to global internet.
Second to communications, 27% of commercial satellites have been launched for Earth Observation (EO) purposes, including environmental monitoring and border security.
Commercial satellites, however, can serve multiple purposes. One week, a satellite may be ‘tasked’ to image a contested border. It could later be tasked to monitor the reclamation of a mining site or even the aftermath of a natural disaster.
Government and civil purposes make up 21% of all of Earth’s operational satellites, and military purposes come in at 13%.